The TikTok Star

The TikTok Star

“Performing on TikTok became an outlet for me during quarantine to express myself and not be a slug.” – Tessa Pulgar
Published: May 10, 2021

COVID in the Community series: The TikTok Star
Tessa Pulgar, a Syracuse University student and musician

I think I took music pretty seriously in high school, because I did a lot of performances. And then when I got to college, that kind of sat on the back burner, because I was trying to do classes, meet new people — have the whole experience. But when the pandemic hit and I had time to actually sit down and be alone with my thoughts, I needed music to process everything.

There’s so much going on, but at the same time, nothing’s happening. So, if anything, performing on TikTok became an outlet for me during quarantine to express myself and not be a slug.

I feel like when I do sing or when I do perform, that’s the truest version of myself that there is. So, not being able to sing with people or perform or do anything, I needed something, and TikTok offered an audience and the platform — so, why not?

During winter break, I posted a video of me playing the piano, and there’s a filter on my face, and then me reacting to seeing the filter. I don’t know why that got so many likes, but it got like 880,000 likes.

The last time I checked, it had like 3.3 million views. For what, though? Why? After that video went viral, I thought, I can’t let this be my legacy. I kept posting new videos, and because there was already traffic direct to my page from that first video, people started seeing it. The singing portion of my account really took off after I posted “River Flows in You.” It’s this piano piece by Yiruma, a famous Korean composer. And it’s very iconic, but no one’s ever written English words to it — so I did. And then that one went viral, too. Once I had a viral video that wasn’t stupid, more people started paying attention to the music that I was putting out.

I’m not really sure if I want to commit to being an artist because I still haven’t released anything, but TikTok has affirmed the fact that I definitely want to be around music. Whether it’s making music or supporting artists who are making meaningful music, I know that I definitely want to be involved in the creative process. Because some of these people are super cool, and they’re just not getting the exposure that I think they deserve.

Before, I struggled with music because of imposter syndrome. I thought I’m not professional enough, or I don’t have the music theory skills to carry this work out in the right way, and I just compared myself to a lot of people. I’d say if you’re in that place, but you love making music, don’t let that stop you.

It just matters that you’re making music, not really whether other people enjoy it, or whether it’s going to be viral, or anything like that. At the end of the day, it’s music. It’s not numbers.

Imposter syndrome held me down while I was at school, because there’s so many talented people at ‘Cuse. So, I was very much aware of that while I was on campus. And then when I came home because of COVID, it was just me and my brother, and we were just jamming. And it brought a lot of joy. I didn’t compare myself to other people while I was at home, because all that really mattered was that I needed the joy that music brings me.

COVID in the Community

COVID in the Community

This as-told-to interview is part of COVID in the Community, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Spring 2021. COVID in the Community documents the experiences of Syracuse area residents living through this extraordinary time.